Maximizing Middle School Success

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Middle school is an important transition time for students between childhood and the teen years, and yet it fills so many parents with dread. Many questions arise, like: What do I concentrate on now that my kids are older? What do they need to do now to get into a “good” college later? What’s the balance between hovering over them and letting them try and possibly fail?

While middle school is too early to truly start the college admissions process, there are a few skills that can make great advances during those tween years:

  • Develop study skills. Middle school may be the first time that your student is introduced to notetaking in class, juggling multiple teacher demands and demonstrating more independence in their homework. Unfortunately, kids in this age range are still developing the part of their brain responsible for organization and time management, so they aren’t naturals at it…yet. Reinforcing consistent organizational methods like having them dump out and reorganize their backpack nightly or writing up a homework to do list are good habits to get into now before harder (and more) work hits later.
  • Encourage activities. New after school and community activities options may become available to your middle schooler. Encourage them try out a few activities, maybe even a few new ones, to see what they like. The goal for middle school activities would be to find a community of peers with similar interests, and to find 2-3 activities that they like well enough to continue on in high school. I find that students who start 9th grade being actively involved have an easier transition to high school— and are setting themselves up for later leadership in activities that college admissions offices value.
  • Learn your school district’s tracking. Many school districts start “tracking” students in middle school—which means different options for honors, college preparatory and standard classes. For example, an 8thgrader might be taking Pre-Algebra, Algebra 1 or Geometry depending on their strength in math in previous years. Particularly in math and world languages, look ahead to your high school course offerings to learn more about how courses taken in middle school may affect what is available to a student in high school.
  • Make new friends. Middle school can be a significant time for social group shuffling. Friends who have been together since kindergarten sometimes grow apart, and new friends often come into the picture. All of this is perfectly normal from a developmental standpoint, as teens are driven to figure out their place in their social world, but it can be a rocky road. Help your middle schooler develop the necessary social skills through allowing face-to-face get-togethers. Listen if they want to talk about their friends, but don’t be surprised if they no longer want to share everything with you. With social dilemmas, parents can’t (and shouldn’t!) always swoop in to solve the problem, but a supportive, non-judgmental response can go a long way.

Just as they get settled into these routines, suddenly it’s time to transition to high school. But I find that students who have developed their study and social skills, and have become actively involved, are well prepared for the challenges that come next in high school…and beyond.

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